By Rich Jones at the Cardiff City Stadium
Cardiff City enjoyed a dream start to life under Neil Warnock as they held on for a 2-1 win over rivals Bristol City at the Cardiff City Stadium on Friday night.
They put in an impressive display to claim Severnside bragging rights and climb out of the Championship relegation zone in Warnock’s first game in charge.
It was an impressive turn-around from the new-look Bluebirds, who handed three players their debuts and saw off a Robins side who had won their last four games.
A first half penalty from Peter Whittingham and a scrappy finish from new signing Sol Bamba made the difference as the Welsh side won their first home game since a 2-1 triumph over Blackburn back in August.
New manager Neil Warnock was full of praise for the efforts of his side in a feisty encounter.
“Very good,” Warnock concluded. “I’m really pleased with the lads. We had a few problems before the game with three lads making their debut and Rickie Lambert carrying a bit of an injury. All credit to them.
“I thought we deserved it, if I’m honest. As all derbies are, they’re really close and nerve wracking at times.
“Life’s too short. We’ve got to enjoy it while we can. I said to the lads after the game, I’m 67 and when that final whistle goes, that’s what I’m in it for.
“To see a team of lads die for me, I can’t ask any more. We’ve got limitations, I know we have, but those lads gave it everything. They’ve got to enjoy that because you don’t enjoy being down the bottom of the league.
“I thought the fans, when we needed them after they got the goal, they were fantastic and they almost got us going again so all credit to them. I think we should have had a clean sheet, but I was pleased we defended very, very well tonight.
“Make no mistake, we played against a good team. They’re a very, very good team and they won’t have a tougher game than that the rest of the season. They’ll get some good wins, and I still feel they’ll have an outside shot of going straight up yet alone the play-offs.
“We were ready for it tonight, the fans were, and the build-up has been really good. We’ve had some injuries but it’s one of those where you know people will step up.”
The hosts started the game brightly, with a dangerous cross from Junior Hoilett being scooped up by Frank Fielding early on before Rickie Lambert had a speculative shot from distance blocked.
Bristol City soon grew into the game, however, and felt they deserved a penalty when Lee Tomlin wriggled his way into the box and went down after a challenge from Joe Bennett.
The game calmed down with both sides seemingly on edge before the referee pointed to the spot for a Cardiff City penalty in the 25th minute.
Some opportunism from Craig Noone was rewarded as he sprung the offside trap to collect a neat through ball from Joe Ralls.
After cutting inside, he was fouled by Joe Bryan and Whittingham coolly slotted home the resulting spot kick to give the Bluebirds a deserved lead.
Despite Bristol City’s best efforts to respond, it was Cardiff who ramped up the pressure as the first half drew to a close.
Sean Morrison looped a header over the bar from a Whittingham corner before Ralls curled a shot straight into the arms of Fielding after smart work from Lambert and Hoilett just before the interval.
After a low key start to the second half, the game burst into life after 66 minutes. Impressive debutant Bamba bundled the ball home after a Cardiff City corner had been flicked onto the crossbar to spark jubilant scenes on the terraces.
Yet Bristol City immediately hit back in controversial circumstances as Tomlin thumped home a vicious strike from 20 yards out to beat Ben Amos at his near post.
Cardiff players were left furious with Lex Immers down injured at the time of the goal, and tempers flared in the centre circle before play eventually restarted.
Despite being instantly pegged back by Tomlin’s fine strike, Warnock’s side kept their composure to see out a tense final 20 minutes and hold on for a much-needed win.
Bristol City substitute Bobby Reid missed a golden opportunity, firing over from just three yards out in stoppage time, but it was a night which belonged to the Bluebirds.
The result means Warnock has not lost his first game in charge of a new club since way back in 1997, whilst Bristol City have not won in Cardiff in their last eight encounters.
The Bluebirds will be back in action at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Wednesday (7.45) as they aim to make it two wins out of two under their new manager.
CARDIFF: Amos (6), Peltier (6), Bennett (6), Morrison (6), Bamba (8), Whittingham (7), Ralls (7), Noone (8), Gunnarsson (7), Lambert (6), Hoilett (7). STAR MAN: Sol Bamba.
SUBS: Immers (6), Pilkington (6), Harris (6). NOT USED: Wilson, Manga, Richardson, Chamakh.
BRISTOL CITY: Fielding, Little, Bryan, Flint, O’Neil, Abraham, Tomlin, Freeman, Paterson, Pack, Magnusson.
SUBS: O’Dowda, Reid, Wilbraham. NOT USED: O’Donnell, Brownhill, Golbourne, Moore.